EDDIE JONES’ first Twickenham experience as England head coach ended with a hard-fought victory as - despite twice being reduced to 14 men - they defeated Six Nations champions Ireland to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive.
The margin of victory could have been far greater as the hosts misfired at crucial times, especially when in total charge of the first half that profited only a 6-3 lead.
Nevertheless, they also showed real character to hit back once Ireland took the lead and then defend their line, particularly when scrum-half Danny Care was sin-binned in the final stages and the visitors threatened to undo all their hard work.
Former Leeds Tykes star Care had been carded for refusing to roll away following a desperate tackle on Ultan Dillane, just as the Ireland forward looked destined to score, although full-back Mike Brown was fortunate not to be given 10 minutes, too, after he caught Conor Murray with his boot moments later.
Murray had already been felled by James Haskell, the England openside who was foolishly yellow-carded in the 45th minute for a late, swinging arm.
The Ireland scrum-half recovered to instantly make the Wasps flanker pay, his side driving the line-out before he sniped over from close range, shrugging off Ben Youngs’ weak tackle attempt.
Jonathan Sexton converted for a 10-6 lead, adding to his first half penalty, but when Ireland lock Devin Toner also cleaned out a player without the ball - Owen Farrell in backplay - the England centre Farrell slotted his third penalty to quickly reduce the deficit and start the hosts’ resurgence.
Anthony Watson. the impressive Bath winger who was England’s best back, scored in the 58th minute courtesy of Chris Robshaw’s long mis-pass and they were in again just five minutes later as Brown crossed when the home side’s handling finally clicked into gear.
Farrell kicked the second conversion having also slotted three penalties but Ireland still posed a threat, illustrated soon after when Sexton broke clear and Jack Nowell was called upon to produce a vital try-saving tackle on Robbie Henshaw.
For England, rampant No8 Billy Vuniploa once more showed why he is one of the best forwards in world rugby with a tireless display up front, causing Ireland all sorts of problems with his bullocking runs and comfortably man-of-the-match.
Young lock Maro Itoje made an impressive debut, too, proving useful in the loose but also a real nuisance to Ireland’s line-out.
After Care’s card, Josh van der Flier thought he had barged over England’s other debutant, the Wasps centre Elliot Day, but the video official ruled the Wasps centre had just held him up.
From the scrum, England’s pack forced their opponents to collapse the set-piece and the 14-men duly celebrated the feat, knowing it had secured a win that sets them up perfectly for the visit of fellow Grand Slam hopefuls Wales in a fortnight’s time.
England had dominated the first half in every department aside from the scoreboard.
How they went in only 6-3 ahead who knows?
It was mainly down to poor execution with their final pass - or not even realising the pass was there - when they had Ireland exposed time after time.
Ball went down too often as they pressed and, though captain Dylan Hartley came closest to getting across the line in the 25th minute, the video official eventually ruled the hooker had done so illegally with a double movement.
Vunipola, a hulking presence who continually tormented Ireland with his powerful carries, had also got near with a typical charge that left Andrew Trimble grounded but CJ Stander just got back in time to aid scrum-half Murray in taking the No8 into touch.
England, however, would not be denied.
England: Brown; Nowell, Joseph, Farrell (Daly 66), Watson; Ford, Youngs (Care 60); Marler (M Vunipola 60), Hartley (George 71), Cole, Itoje, Kruis, Robshaw (Clifford 71), Haskell (Lawes 77), B Vunipola.
Ireland: Kearney; Trimble, Henshaw, McCloskey (Zebo 64), Earls; Sexton (Madigan 77), Murray (Reddan 71); McGrath (Healy 60), Best (Strauss 71), Ross (White 60), Ryan (Dillane 64), Toner, Stander (Ruddock 67), van der Flier, Heaslip